State touts school improvement; ex-leader calls some gains misleading

Ohio Department of Education officials expressed optimism about higher statewide scores on the 2018-19 school report cards, but a former state school board president said some of the gains were a meaningless result of moving the goalposts.

ODE officials said student proficiency on state tests increased for the third consecutive year in both English and math, and went down in science. Chris Woolard, ODE’s senior executive director for Performance and Impact, said scores increased for all subgroups of students in math, and for all but Alaska Native/American Indian students in English.

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“When we looked at all the tests together, overall proficiency rates went up and the overall performance index went up,” Woolard said. “We’ve had a few straight years of that, and we think those are positive trends.”

State officials also pointed out that the four-year graduation rate reached a new high of 85.3 percent for the Class of 2018. But former state school board president Tom Gunlock, of Centerville, said the graduation numbers don’t mean anything and are actually a disservice to students.

The Class of 2018 was the first group that was allowed to use alternative pathways to graduation (good attendance, work/community service hours, a senior project, etc.) rather than passing state tests.

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“They need to pick whatever their goal is,” Gunlock said. “If their goal is to give a diploma to everybody in the state, then the (legislature) did it well. If the goal is to make sure every kid is ready for the next part of his or her life, then they did it very poorly.”

Gunlock said by giving diplomas to students who did not meet academic standards, Ohio is lying to them about their readiness for adulthood. He argued instead of reducing the requirements, students should get increased supports to help them be successful.

ODE officials said it was a good sign that progress was made in a variety of areas besides just state test scores. The number of students who earned dual enrollment college credits increased by about 9,100, the number scoring remediation-free on the ACT or SAT increased by 2,000, and the number earning industry-recognized job credentials went up by 2,700.

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On the other hand, the state continues to struggle with chronic absenteeism among students. In the 2017-18 school year, 16.0 percent of Ohio students were chronically absent (missing 10 percent of the school year or more – roughly 17-18 days). The goal is to cut that number to 5 percent. But in the new report card, the rate rose to 16.7 percent.

In the second year of the state giving an overall grade to each district, about 5 percent of districts got an “A,” 28 percent got a “B,” 46 percent got a “C,” 20 percent received a “D” and less than 1 percent got an “f.”

Gunlock argued against the overall grade given to each school and district, saying it takes away from the focus on improving each component – year-over-year growth, gap closing, preparing high schoolers for success and more. He compared it to an elementary school report card, where students get grades in individual classes, but no overall grade.

Woolard said the report card has to serve many different constituencies, from educators and data analysts to everyday residents and parents. He said a lot of parents expressed interest in an overall grade to sum up the more detailed data components. But he encouraged people to “get under the hood” of their schools’ report card, saying it can paint very different pictures of school districts who got the same overall grade.

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